by Sandra Stock
Lac Bouchette covers the greatest watery surface area in the Municipality of Morin Heights. It’s about a mile and a quarter in length but less than a quarter of a mile wide at its greatest width. It’s not very deep, compared to many other Laurentian lakes, but takes in a significant watershed and feeds an enormous wetland. Its outflow into the Simon River probably doubles the volume of water carried by that stream onward to join the North River at Piedmont. It is the only lake in the residential part of Morin Heights that has an island: Île aux Bleuets – Blueberry Island. The best available public view to look down the length of Lac Bouchette is from the bridge on Route 329: the road to St. Adophe d’Howard.
Lac Bouchette has had at least three names since settlement first began in this area in the mid-nineteenth century. “Bouchette” seems to have appeared fairly early, at least by 1910, when the lake is called “Brochette” (!) on a Canadian Pacific Railway map. Spelling seemed very flexible to cartographers as well as to census takers, as any historical researcher can attest. Also, an excellent early photograph-- probably from the 1890’s-- belonging to Dorothy Kennedy Garayt, a granddaughter of two early settler families in the region, calls it “Kennedy’s Lake”. Then, from about 1920 to the 1960’s, the name Lac St. Louis appears on both maps and postcards.
None of our sources could give an exact date or reason for these options. However, by 1970, Lac Bouchette was established as the official name. This would be in honour of Joseph Bouchette, fils, (1774 to 1841) who was one of the first, if not the first, mapmaker to show the Laurentian region. He was the Surveyor General of Lower Canada in the 1820’s and 1830’s and an artist, author and cartographer as well as having had a distinguished military career in the War of 1812.
Joseph Bouchette was born in Quebec City into a very well connected family and appears to have been educated mainly at home. His father, Joseph Bouchette père (Senior), was also a cartographer and his uncle, Samuel Holland, was also a noted geographer and mapmaker who held various prestigious posts with the colonial government. Bouchette was fluent in English and actually wrote many of his works in both languages. It should be noted that at this time, right after the British conquest of New France (Lower Canada-Quebec), it was not at all unusual to find intermarriage and social intermingling of French and English speaking residents. Bouchette married Adelaide Chaboillez, from a wealthy fur trading family, in Montreal in 1797 and they had five children.
The extreme nationalism of the Victorian Age had not yet appeared and at this time – late eighteenth century – the Church was not as strong as it later became in Quebec. Joseph Bouchette was more of a man of the eighteenth century Enlightenment, well read, interested in nature, science and discovery and contact with the wider world. He was a founding member of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec (1824), the oldest learned society in Canada. He had a brief and unhappy political career in the government of Lower Canada, as he did not support the Patriot reform movement or the 1837 Rebellion. However, one of his sons was deeply involved in this and even spent a short time in prison.
Joseph Bouchette accomplished an impressive body of work. He traveled by foot and by canoe into the areas that he mapped accompanied by aboriginal guides. He was Surveyor General for Lower Canada from 1803 to 1840 and wrote the first summary of the province: one in 1815 and the second in 1831, called The British Dominions in North America (London, 1815). In 1832 he wrote Report on the Indians of Lower Canada, one of the first fairly objective studies of native peoples done by any European. Joseph Bouchette died in Montreal in April 1841. As a real pioneer in his field and in fact, one of Canada’s and Quebec’s first great cartographers, he certainly warrants being commemorated by at least a lake.
To understand the pattern of settlement of this area of the Township of Morin, we should look at the map, copied from the “Carte du Comté d’Argenteuil, Service du Cadastre Montréal, 20 octobre 1924” included here. The township was divided into six ranges, numbered I through VI in Roman numerals, and each range was divided into Lots of 100 acres (English measure). Land grants were given by the 100 acre long narrow Lot, although because of peculiarities of terrain, such as a swamp, sometimes two half Lots were given in a square.
The Lac Bouchette area is mostly in the third and fourth ranges of Morin, although we shall consider the wider area here, right up to the tiny tip of the triangle, the sixth range. According to the “Canton de Morin- érigé le 19 février 1852, Reg. L, Special Grants, folio 846” – “ Township of Morin – erected the 19th of February, 1852, Reg. L, Special Grants, folio 846”, the original landowners were as follows here. The date is the year they officially received these grants although some may have been settled here a short time before that.
Isaac Jekill, 1868, Range III, Lot 38 and Range IV, Lot 38, in 1882
Francis Watchorn, 1871, Range III, Lot 37
Robert Newton, 1871, Range III, Lot 36
Jean-Baptiste Légault, dit Deslauriers, 1871, Range III, Lot 32
Barthèlemé Groulx, 1871, Range III, Lots 34 and 35
Joseph Bélisle, 1873, Range IV, Lot 29
William Byrns, 1879, Range III, southwest part of Lot 26 and northeast part of Lot 27
Benjamin Doherty, 1883, Range IV, Lot 37
Moïse Bélisle, 1884, Range III, Lot 33
Hormidas Lafleur, 1889, Range III, northeast part of Lot 26 and southwest part of Lot 25
Also close to this area, but not as near to the lake, we can include Toussaint Despatis, 1889, Range II, Lot 27 and Félix Corbeille (as spelled on list), 1872, Range II, Lot 28.
Nearly all these early pioneers have descendants still living in the Morin Heights area. As seen from the map, the Groulx and Légault families were the first to have actual shoreline on the lake. However, in the nineteenth century, lake frontage was not the great asset it was to later become. Other than some fishing and then ice cutting in winter for food preservation purposes, a lake was not particularly useful for these pioneer farmers. All the land was well watered by many springs, small streams and the Simon River. It would be another generation later that would profit from summer cottages, camps and recreational attractions at our lakes.
Also, at that time Lac Bouchette was half the size it later became. In 1905 the Villeneuve Lumber Company received flooding rights from Javier Guénette, who at that time owned the land at the head of the lake near Route 329 (the Green family property). A wooden dam was installed at the outlet to the Simon River.
This created the vast expanse of water that is Lac Bouchette today. The Villeneuve company sawmill was placed at the dam. Later, this company was sold to the Argenteuil Lumber Company that later became J.E.Seale & Sons Lumber Company. The first Guénette sawmill had been at this location, built around 1880, but it was moved to the village at the bridge on the Echo Lake Road. All local Morin Heights mills were by the 1920’s placed closer to the village. However, Lac Bouchette had become by then a second home area and also the location of the Girl Guide Camp for the Montreal district. It was important to maintain the size of the lake. Around 1935, the wooden dam was replaced by much stronger cement one by Fernand Guénette.
The families who received the land grants we have mentioned, and others who followed them later in the nineteenth century, were, of course, farmers. They managed to clear much of this area that is especially rocky and steep, even for the Laurentians, and to establish mixed farms. They supplemented their incomes by selling firewood and logs, making potash from hardwood trees and eventually, from some surplus crops. Later they worked in the sawmills and at the winter lumber camps. Many had skills like blacksmithing and carpentry which often led to them leaving the farm and living in the village. A few became storeowners and many of the second and third generation emigrated to Western Canada and the United States. This land was hard and could not support a large population by agriculture.
In “Morin Heights, 1855 – 1955”, the early period around Lac Bouchette is chronicled by author Laura Davis Nesbitt who had known many of the longer-lived original settlers. In 1955 most of this area was still being farmed although many second homes and camps were here by then as well. She describes Isaac Jekill, a very busy type of pioneer and obviously a man of some education and ability, whose family had emigrated from Ireland and first settled in Gore (Lakefield) “ Mr. William Jekill came from Ireland with his wife and son and daughter. They lived at Gore. After his death, his son Isaac with his mother and sister came to live in Morin. When he came to Morin it is not known, but that he was here in 1850 is proved by the fact that in that year he gave a farm to James Kennedy. Isaac Jekill organized the Orange Lodge in Morin and was Master of it until his death in 1894. He married Mathilda Stapleton of St. Sauveur in 1856 and they had two sons and two daughters. When the Post Office was first at Morin Flats he was appointed postmaster, in 1877. He was active in municipal affairs and was for 20 years Mayor. He also held the positions of Secretary-Treasurer and Justice of the Peace. He opened a store in Morin Flats in the building that is now Melvin Dey’s home (the A.N.Morin house). This store was later run by his son, William….”(pages 24-25).
The Stapleton family owned a general store in St. Sauveur, and also was prominent in the past days of Morin. Mount Stapleton, near Lac Bouchette, was part of their property. The Jekills did not appear to have lived on their holding on the Fourth Range, but much later, in the 1930’s, Isaac’s grandson built a second home on this side of Lac Bouchette. The Jekill homestead (see The Porcupine – Le Porc-épic #7) still stands at the corner of Route 364 and Route 329 (Lot 38, Third Range) but is presently in very poor condition. This 1850’s squared log house certainly should have protection as a heritage building.
Further along the road to St. Adolphe d’Howard, the farm belonged to Francis Watchorn who married Margaret Ann Hamilton, daughter of George Hamilton, the first mayor of Morin Township. Eventually this attractively located farm bordering the Simon River, became the very well known Watchorn’s Farm boarding house that now is the Gite/ Restaurant Clôs Joli. Also, at this point, the Simon River plunges dramatically downhill from the higher elevations around Mount Stapleton, creating Watchorn’s Falls.
These falls were an exciting route for the nineteenth century lumbermen, many of whom couldn’t swim, that bravely prodded and pushed logjams down towards the mills in Morin Flats. Later, Watchorn’s Falls became a wonderful swimming place for local children and the site of many church picnics. However, as the population of Morin Heights grew and diversified, issues of security forced the closing of the Falls to the public.The Centennial book of 1955 goes on to describe the next property, “Starting once more at the outskirts on the St. Adophe Road, the first farm was owned by Benjamin Doherty, son of Archibald Doherty, mentioned before. He was married and had six children, three of whom still live in Morin. William, the oldest son, is married and lives in the village….Wesley, the second son, lives farther out of the village….Norman, the third son, never married. He lives in the village…. The farm was bought by Robert Goodfellow, who later sold it…This farm now belongs to Mr.Mattenberger, who, with his wife and his son came from Switzerland some years ago. Mr.Mattenberger contracted for some years, but now has built an attractive small hotel which is called ‘Swiss Inn’….” (page 25).
The original Doherty farmhouse was incorporated into this new construction. The Swiss Inn is still flourishing although it has passed through many owners since the Mattenbergers. There is a small lake behind it, originating from the end of Lac Bouchette.
The next farm described by Laura Nesbitt in 1955 was one of the Bélisle farms.”Three brothers, Alexandre, Moïse and Ferdinand Bélisle must have been among the first settlers…This farm was settled by Alexandre Bélisle, whose son, Moïse, lived there with his family all his life. Four of his family are living in Morin, Eugene, Joseph, Henri and a sister who is married to Nazarius Bélisle of another family. Eugene with his family still live on the farm.” (page 25).
The adjoining property with its extensive lakeshore now belongs to Basil and Lucille Green, and was originally settled by Alexis Guénette. There were several changes of owners before this property was bought by Basil’s father, John W. (Jimmy) Green and his wife Frances. Mr. Green Senior was the Secretary-Treasurer of Morin Heights in the 1940’s-1950’s, although the Greens did initially farm. Basil is very active with the Lac Bouchette Property Owners Association that was set up in 1966 to protect the lake. The Association purchased the dam at the outlet and also cares for Blueberry Island.
The Fourth Range Road goes up the hill beside Green’s to what Laura Nesbitt wrote in 1955 as “…the only farm which remains in the family of the original owners is Ferdinand Bélisle’s. Mr. Bélisle, whose grandfather was a brother of the one mentioned before has several sons living in Morin…” (page 25). While researching this article we spoke with Réjean Bélisle, great grandson of Ferdinand, who still lives on this farm.
Counting Réjean’s young granddaughter, that makes seven generations on this same beautiful hilltop property. Although Réjean and his family keep pet horses and sheep and a dozen chickens and sell firewood, the family no longer farms. However, the original house and the many barns and stables are still in use. The Bélisle family was also the builders of the Wayside Cross that faces the house. These are becoming very rare artifacts of traditional Quebec.
On the lower, third range side of Lac Bouchette the first farm was settled by William Kennedy. He had five children, including Jack and Fred who were twins. Fred Kennedy married Jessie Doherty, daughter of Benjamin Doherty, and their daughter is Dorothy Garayt of Morin Heights, one of our knowledgeable sources for this article. The Kennedy farm was sold and has passed through various owners. The original farmhouse is still a home but of course the land has been divided and the trees have grown back.
The next farm belonged to Javier Guénette, son of Alexis, and by the 1950’s, was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Wiertz, who operated the lovely Chatelet Hotel that was situated with a beautiful view on to the lake. The Chatelet, later renamed The Carriage House Hotel, sadly was destroyed by fire some years ago.
Next was the farm of John Stapleton; all that remains of this family is the mountain named after them. Like many others, the younger generations moved away and the land was sold and divided.
The next farm was settled by another branch of the Bélisle family (Moïse Bélisle). His granddaughter, Alice, married Albert Corbeil, who was the Morin Heights barber. This establishment was in the building next to Mickey’s and sported an old-fashioned red and white barber pole that can be spotted in old photos of our main street.
Across the Third Range Road, now called chemin Bélisle, was the original Labelle farm that, by the 1950’s, had been sold and operated as a chicken farm first by Mr. Vine and then by Mr. Simms who later worked for J.E. Seale at the mill. This area is now quite built up although many of the older homes, some of them original farmhouses, remain.
As we proceed along chemin Bélisle, we come to chemin Lac Bouchette that gives access to the lower (village side) shore of the lake. The major landowner up this road is Camp Wa-Thik-Ane (Peaceful Waters), the Girl Guides of Canada camp that has been in this location since 1926.
This camp started with land donated in 1926 by Mrs. G. Herrick Duggan plus more land purchased from Mr.Herbert H. Field, for a total of 350 acres. This initial campsite appears to have been mainly in Lots 30 and 29 of the Third Range and a portion of land directly across the lake. The early days were quite rough by present standards – real wilderness camping, with minimal conveniences at the camp. The girls came by train to Morin Heights Station and were taken by horses and carts to the camp by Arthur Forget, Raoul Forget and (first name not given) a Mr. Bélisle. Over the entire history of the camp, several local residents who lived on adjoining farms provided transportation, maintenance, construction and general care for the campers. Most recently, this role has been filled by Denis Guénette, who has worked at the camp for over 50 years. From the Wa-Thik-Ane 1926 to 2001 booklet, by Eleanor Maxwell, describing the history of the camp, we can see that relations with the local community of Morin Heights have always been agreeable, and most probably this is an important factor in why the camp continues so successfully today.
By 1951, the camp “..had grown considerably during the past quarter century and the one small campsite on the shore of Lac Bouchette has been replaced by eight larger sites. Also, many modern improvements have superceded the original make-shift dwellings, but the general spirit of friendliness and self-reliance is evident.” (page 12) In 1951 over 600 girls from the Montreal area camped at Lac Bouchette. This camp experience included swimming, boating, handicrafts, woodcrafts and nature study. Although the aim was, of course, gaining skills and achieving various guide badges, this outdoor living in (compared to Montreal) wild nature had long-lasting positive effects on the young people.
With the baby boom of the 1950’s to 1970’s, the camp expanded even more and replaced many of the old structures with new and added docks and marquees. In 1967 a donation was received from the estate of Mrs. R.E.Stavert, who had been the Provincial Guide Commissioner from 1959 to 1964. This led to the renovation of the lodge, opened in 1970 and renamed Stavert Lodge. With stronger structures such as this, camping could be extended into spring and fall weekends. The original sign for the Lodge was painted by Basil Green and is still on the building. (page 24)
As time went on, camps became more regulated by government standards. For example, “The Provincial Health and Fire Inspectors, along with the Quebec Camping Association, forced us to make additional changes. Extra doors to buildings, railings, staircases and fire buckets beside each tent were just a few. In 1975 we had to ban the use of the faithful old oil lantern…” (page 28)
About this time there was an increase in weekend camping by many different groups, not just the Guides. School groups could rent the site and families could also use the camp out of season. The camp now had a total of 400 acres. This entails constant maintenance of the buildings and the terrain. The problem of erosion, especially along the waterfront, has been a concern. Also, the campers have visited the wilderness area, across the lake from the main campsites, for many years…”guides can venture further to Blueberry Island, down to the bridge and perhaps continue on upstream to Lac Franc. One of the attractions through the years is the stream adjacent to the campsite. A trail beside the stream leads up to a large pond created in recent years by a beautifully engineered beaver dam.” (page 38). This must be a wonderful wilderness expedition for city young people, even more so now as the urban world is creeping closer to once remote country areas.
The far end of Lac Bouchette, past the Guide Camp, including the peninsula and around to the farther shore on the Fourth Range side, has retained much of its original, quite undeveloped character. In the 1950’s, the gently sloping beach at the head of the lake was a weekend campground for many Hungarian families from Montreal. At first there were no permanent structures built. People just came up for the day or slept in a tent, but eventually, small summer-only cottages were constructed. Many of these remain, hidden in the trees and maintaining an air of the Laurentians of at least 40 years ago. There are only a handful of year-round houses. Sylvia Fendle remembers coming here as a child with her family and having bonfires and cookouts on the beach. At that time this part of the lake was full of driftwood that sheltered a large population of giant bullfrogs. Unfortunately, clearing and burning the driftwood seems to have destroyed the frog metropolis. However, the vast diversity of water and land plants and the still quiet setting makes this an important ecosystem that hopefully will be preserved.
If we return to the Fourth Range side of Lac Bouchette and proceed up the Fourth Range Road towards the municipal border with Ste. Adèle, past the Bélisle farm, we soon come to several completely wild lakes that shelter a great variety of bird life, including herons and ducks. At one point, we encounter an unexpected structure – a pyramid shaped memorial cairn dedicated to “Aux Combattants / Pour la Liberté et la Paix / Le Souvenir Français “. It obviously refers to war veterans, but, much like the several names of the lake, no one was really clear on who was responsible for this memorial, expertly constructed of local fieldstone and standing rather isolated in a clearing off the road. It is possible that it originated with another youth camp, called “Sac au Dos”, as this was written on a rock opposite. For now, it remains another Morin Heights area mystery.
The very hilly and mostly wilderness region of the upper fourth and the fifth and sixth ranges is covered by cross-country ski trails. The best known of these are the Portageur, Viking West, Lovers’ Leap and Rapide Blanc. These are classified as backcountry, difficult (and very difficult!) cross country ski trails and are maintained by the Municipality of Morin Heights along with several dedicated individual ski enthusiasts. Unfortunately, the growing threat of development by privately owned homes is encroaching on this mainly still wild landscape of especially the fifth and sixth ranges. Many landowners no longer allow skiers access across their properties and trails have to be either rerouted or shortened. As some of these trails (the Portageur, for example) have been in existence for over 60 years, they are definitely an important part of our cultural and natural heritage and should be protected. Also, plaques could be installed telling the origin and history of the more important ones.
Large and beautiful Lac Théodore marks the tip of the triangle of the comparatively small sixth range. This lake is mainly in Ste. Adèle and partly in St. Adolphe d’Howard. To access the Morin Heights sector by road, we must go through Ste. Adèle. This area of Morin Heights has impressively high mountains, many streams and wetlands and, of course, the long and unspoiled expanse of Lac Théodore.
Sources: Réjean Bélisle, Basil Green, Dorothy (Kennedy) Garayt, Joy Kirkpatrick, Sylvia Fendle; Morin Heights, 1855 – 1955, Laura (Davis) Nesbitt; Wa-Thik-Ane, Quebec, 1926 – 2001, Eleanor Maxwell, Girl Guides of Canada; Cadastral Plan of the portion of the Township of Morin, copied from “Carte du Comité d’Argenteuil” 1924 Archives of Canada; (online) information about Joseph Bouchette; Morin Heights Historical Association collection of photos and also recent photos of landscape by author.
Sandra Stock was the founder and president of the Morin Heights Historical Association and also the director of the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network for the Laurentians and Lanaudiere regions. A former high school teacher, Sandra has an academic background in literature and fine arts and has written for various publications in the Laurentian area.